At the Lake: Man missing after falling from sailboat |

At the Lake: Man missing after falling from sailboat

Provided by the Tahoe Daily Tribune

Authorities waged an exhaustive search for a 54-year-old South Lake Tahoe man believed to have drowned after falling from a sailboat off the Tahoe Keys shoreline Sunday evening.

The identity of the missing man had not been released as of press time. The search was continuing as of 10 p.m., more than three hours after the initial call.

A dive team was dispatched with boat marine units and a CALSTAR helicopter searching the area about a quarter mile off the shore of Beach Drive. An El Dorado County Sheriff’s unit joined the South Lake Tahoe Fire and Police departments, along with the U.S. Coast Guard and Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District. A Coast Guard officer said his crew had planned to resume the search today.

The Coast Guard uses a formula to gauge the survival rate based on the age and clothes of the victim as well as the water temperature. Officer James Crawford figured his survival rate at 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

“It doesn’t look good, but we always try to stay as hopeful as possible,” he said.

The man was apparently teaching the other three occupants how to sail when he fell into the 42-degree water at a depth of 12 to 24 feet. Two life vests were thrown in, South Lake Tahoe Fire reported. His daughter watched him go under water and jumped in to rescue him to no avail. When the sailboat came in to the Tahoe Keys Marina, friends greeted the tearful woman.

The difficulty of the search was heightened by 10- to 20-mph winds that kicked up that afternoon, making visibility low for the crews ” including the helicopter that went out twice that evening.

“They’ll search until dark,” South Lake Tahoe Fire Department Batallion Chief Brad Piazzo said of the 6:52 p.m. call.

But hope was fading fast as the first hour passed.

“This is not a good sign,” police Sgt. Cameron Carmichael said, watching the circling of units from the shore.

The incident drew a crowd along the shore from the marina to the tip of the Beach Drive inlet.

“That’s scary, cold water. We always talk about that,” South Shore resident Joanne Michael said. She and her companion, Ty Robben, had just finished a kayak trip on the Upper Truckee River and emptied out by the marina when they heard the commotion.

Robben, who has lived at Tahoe for a decade, recalled how alarming it was when his Hobie cat vessel capsized and a rescue unit was sent out for him.

“But I had a wetsuit on,” he said.

The missing man was not wearing one, according to a police report.

The incident comes after last summer’s tough season for Lake Tahoe water enthusiasts. Three drownings were reported in five days. The average is two per year.

Even after Paul Habelt was shot four times by a drug-crazed man in a South Lake Tahoe apartment 32 years ago, his allegiance and much of his life was always as an officer of the law.

On Thursday near Payne, Texas, Habelt’s life ended in the line of duty at the hands of another man.

A gunman shot and killed the former South Lake Tahoe police officer and another deputy before he was shot and wounded. The incident happened within hours after the officers participated in a memorial to honor peace officers slain in the line of duty, authorities said.

“It’s terribly distressing and sad,” said retired South Lake Tahoe police officer Les Scott, a friend of Habelt for many years. “He was one of those guys born to be a cop. It was in his blood and when it’s in your blood, it’s always in your blood.”

Habelt, 63, and deputy Tony Price Ogburn, 61, were killed, and deputy Kevin Harris, 40, was injured. The suspected gunman, Randall W. Mays, 47, was shot in the elbow and his side and was taken to a hospital, where he was in fair condition, authorities said. He was being guarded by sheriff’s deputies and had not been charged.

The officers were responding to a domestic disturbance when Mays allegedly opened fire with a high-powered rifle. The officers were out in the open and tried to take cover, authorities said.

The fatal crime scene was eerily similar to the one on Sept. 2, 1975, when Habelt and now retired South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brad Bennett responded to Kelmont Arms apartment building, now called Bart’s Tahoe. The officers arrived after hearing a “suspicious circumstances” police dispatch report involving a gun and a poker game.

The incident turned into an 18-hour hostage drama when two brothers, James and Wayne Locklear, kept police at bay after James Locklear shot Habelt in the face, shoulder, hand and wrist. Three others in the apartment complex were kept as hostages by the brothers, who admitted they were on drugs. One of the hostages, George Stedler, was caught in the crossfire after fleeing the complex, and was shot to death by a South Lake Tahoe police officer.

“It was a chaotic situation,” recalled Bennett when interviewed on Sunday.

Habelt, who had been on the force for about 18 months, was a detective at the time. Before coming to Tahoe he had been a police officer in Oakland, something his father had also done, Bennett said.

“He told me then that he got out of Oakland because he didn’t want to be in a big-city crime environment,” Bennett recalled.

It was Habelt who was in the neighborhood at the time and decided to respond to the Ski Run apartment building, even though he was a detective and wasn’t required to respond, Bennett said.

“We were a small department. I remember him saying he would go and check it out. There were other guys out on the street who could have gone. (Habelt) didn’t have to because it wasn’t his duty.”

As backup, Bennett decided to follow Habelt. At the Ski Run apartment building Habelt knocked on the door of the suspect, identified himself and took a step inside when it opened. That’s when James Locklear, 24, took a 45-caliber pistol and repeatedly shot Habelt. His body slumped forward into the apartment and the door closed. Bennett called for backup. The door then opened. It was Habelt, bleeding from the face. Bennett grabbed him and pulled him into the stairwell, away from the door. Within seconds the apartment was surrounded.

“I looked at him and thought he was dead because he was shot in the face,” Bennett said. “(The bullet) went from his cheek and exited out the neck,” he said.

The brothers were later convicted and sent to prison. The shooter, James Locklear, spent about eight years total time in prison, Bennett said.

While somewhat shook up in the incident, Habelt wasn’t willing to quit the force. For about two years he worked as a dispatcher, hoping that his wrist injury would eventually heal. It did not and he was later forced into retirement, Bennett said.

Habelt stayed in Tahoe where he worked as a newspaper delivery man and for his father at the 7-Eleven on Highway 50 and Carson Street. Retired officer Scott, who now works part-time as a boat patrol officer, remembers Habelt well and the two had become friends after the forced retirement.

“He was a true man in blue, an officer whose heart was always in law enforcement and one of the sweetest guys you’d ever want to meet,” Scott recalled. “Even though he was retired from the force, he wanted to be a part of it and was for all of the guys back then. He was someone to listen to because we respected him.”

The last time Bennett heard from Habelt, in 2002, he was in Texas hoping to get a job with the sheriff’s department in Henderson County.

“He sent me an e-mail saying he wanted a retired police officer ID card from us and that he was in Texas,” Bennett recalled. “When I got the e-mail I was kind of dumbfounded. I thought how most guys his age are retiring, and yet after all these years he still wants to be a cop.”

The slain deputies had attended a Henderson County Peace Officers Association memorial service in the courthouse square earlier that day to remember fallen officers, a Henderson County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson said.

Just for the record, Jessica Woods’ performance in Las Vegas has made her Whittell High School’s winningest athlete of all time.

Woods won individual state titles in three different events and helped lead the Whittell girls’ track team to its third straight team state title at the Nevada 2A track and field championships on Friday and Saturday at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas.

Woods’ victories in the 100 high hurdles (16.30 seconds), triple jump (34 feet, 71/2 inches) and long jump (16 feet, 8 inches) gives her seven career individual state championships. Including her three team track titles and her four in volleyball, Woods has won a combined 14 state championships ” two more than the 12 earned by Katrina Kacirek between 2002-2006.

“Jessica, personally, scored us 38 points for the team, which is pretty amazing,” said WHS track coach Cece Lathe. “Mackenzie Dunn from Battle Mountain gave Jessica a run for her money in the long jump. Mackenzie is the next great jumper in the 2A, that’s for sure, but Jessica really focused and got the job done.”

Sasha Rupp claimed two titles for the Warriors as the distance runner won the 1,600 (5:58.69) and 3,200 (13:22.56). The Whittell girls had two other individual state champions in Shannon Marshall (high jump) and Kelly Karmann (shot put) and also won the 4×400 and 4×800 relay races.

Marshall recorded a mark of 5 feet, 1/2 inch in the high jump and also placed second in the 300-meter hurdles in a school-record time of 49.35 seconds. Karmann had a mark of 31 feet, 7 3/4 inches in the shot put and placed third in the discus.

Natalie Daly took second in the 800 (2:32.07) and third in the 400 (1:02.27), while Mara Humbird placed third in the 200 (29.17). The Warriors finished with a two-day team total of 156 points. Battle Mountain was second with 130 points and White Pine third with 117.

“I was really impressed with the entire team,” Lathe said. “They stuck it out in pretty tough conditions for setting personal-bests with the warm weather, but they did exactly what I expected them to do this year. However, I really didn’t feel confident we were going to win until the halfway point of the second day.”

In the boys’ meet, Tyson Guajardo and David King each won events as the Warriors finished sixth in the final team standings with 51 points. Rite of Passage won the team title with 204 points.

Guajardo won the 1,600 (4:52.83) and King the 3,200 (10:38.88). Paul Waite took second in the 110 hurdles in 17.51 seconds ” nine-tenths of a second behind first-place Darnell White of Rite of Passage.

Woods was unavailable for comment on Sunday.